Nonprofits, There’s not a Lack of Diversity in Candidate Pools — It’s Your Hiring Process.

Racially Equitable Hiring and Retention Practices in the Nonprofit Sector: A 3-part blog series by Joanna Shoffner Scott

Nonprofits, it’s not the hiring pool that lacks diversity, it’s your hiring process that lacks intentionality.

It’s no secret that the nonprofit sector struggles with hiring and retaining talent of color. This post is the first in a 3-part series on best practices for racially equitable hiring and retention in the nonprofit sector. The guidance offered in this post is general advice based on my experience working with nonprofit organizations. For deeper more customized advice, reach out for a consult.

Let’s start with the recruitment and interview process. In my consulting work with nonprofits, the question hiring managers ask most consistently is, “Where are the people of color?” Managers fret that they are unable to put together racially diverse hiring pools. My initial thought is usually something like this, “Just because there are not people of color in your pool doesn’t mean that there are not people of color doing the work you need. It’s probably a good idea to take a closer look at your hiring process.”

Figure 1.  Data indicate a racial gap in nonprofit representation by role

Despite good intentions -- nonprofits engage in self-fulfilling prophecies of creating and maintaining all white organizations. If an organization has aspirations to create create more representative racial, ethnic and cultural diversity within their staff, and they end up with candidate pools that are all white, the problem is not with the availability of candidates -- it's with the process.
Joanna Shoffner Scott, PhD.
Racial Equity Consultant

Figure 2. The cycle that contributes to all white workplaces

Before engaging in any of the steps below, conduct an internal review of your organization’s structures. A starting question for this assessment is how do existing staff across race and gender experience the structures within your organization? Without this kind of organizational self-examination, even if revamped recruiting processes are successful, new hires will ultimately leave because deeper issues of equity (and inequity) have gone unaddressed. The Race Matters Institute offers a useful organizational assessment.

Once that work is done, here are some practical steps that nonprofits can take to ensure that their hiring processes are racially equitable:

  • Refine the job description. Most job descriptions are too long. Research indicates that women of all racial groups and people of color will respond to job only if they meet every criterion in a posting. As you interview, use the job post as an anchor to evaluate candidates. Always start with the criteria that the job actually requires.
  • Be clear about the level of leadership/autonomy the position requires. I have coached professionals of color who applied for positions that indicated leadership only to find out those very aspects of the position were closely supervised. Their role (that they thought required leadership) was actually a supportive role. This means that the description is possibility eliciting a more advanced person than the job responsibilities will support.
  • Create a structured, written interview process. Organizational processes that are largely discretionary are places where implicit bias reigns. Write it down and follow it.


I bet the results of taking a different, more intentional approach will surprise you.

This post is Part 1 of a 3- part series on racially equitable hiring practices. If you like it, share it.

Author: Joanna Shoffner Scott
Joanna Shoffner Scott is an experienced management consultant with deep expertise in racial equity. She is the founder and principal of Stamey Street Consulting Group, LLC, and is a Senior Consultant with the Race Matters Institute of JustPartners, Inc. Joanna has consulted with numerous organizations all over the country on unpacking race in their every day work.